Right reasons, wrong call

Mention strategic planning to anyone at the Bar Council and you’re likely to be met with a confused, quizzical look.

Its decision to defer the right to call yourself a barrister until after the completion of pupillage – just as the Law Society is considering taking trainee solicitors in the opposite direction – looks like just another bungled, albeit well-intentioned, initiative, typical of the profession’s governing body.

The UK’s law schools have voiced the most spirited objection to the new rule, planned for implementation in 2008. With something like 1,500 students undertaking the BVC every year, each paying up to £10,000 for the privilege, law schools are understandably protective of their cash cow.

But it’s not just about the fees. The decision goes to the heart of the bar’s future standing, particularly internationally.

The bar’s reasoning is that deferral of call is the best way to ensure equality and for purchasers of the bar’s services to get what they paid for. There’s a world of difference between a student fresh out of law school and a barrister with hard-earned courtroom experience.

But, given that the number of pupillages on offer is already fast diminishing, and opportunities for young barristers to get that essential court experience are also that much harder to find, deferral of call may actually serve to restrict further the diversity of an already exclusive profession.

It is also risking its international reputation. A survey by BPP Law School revealed that 16 per cent of its overseas students would not have undertaken the BVC in the UK had the new rules already been implemented. The quality of the UK bar is globally recognised – and its top sets have expended much time and money selling their services overseas to counter a shrinking domestic market – as is the training it provides. Limit the opportunities afforded overseas students wishing to qualify over here and there is clearly a very real risk that in future students will decide to take the New York Bar course instead, taking their money and the UK’s unrivalled reputation with them.

Nevertheless, the bar would probably still rather be safely tucked up in the Temple than entering the dirty world of solicitors, which has been so much more effective in planning an international strategy. This world got even dirtier this week after Bircham Dyson Bell took the bizarre decision to launch a PR service. Can you imagine anything more unpopular than a lawyer and a PR rolled into one? They’ll be recruiting journalists next.